The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Roundtable talks cover wide range of countywide issues


January 11, 2018

It was roundtable discussion time Tuesday as the Wahkiakum County officials and residents covered a lot in a morning of discussions on topics ranging from high speed internet to ferry service status notifications.

The day started with a quarterly roundtable facilitated by Bill Flashing of the Cowlitz/Wahkiakum Governmental Conference; representatives of local governmental bodies gathered to relate their projects and concerns.

Wahkiakum PUD Commissioner Gene Healy sparked some discussion with comments about high speed internet.

"We need to keep our eyes peeled for high speed internet," Healy said. "Any economic development will be centered around that. It needs to be available at a reasonable price for the average person."

There is region wide interest in high speed internet, Flashing said. The governmental conference is putting together a regional economic development plan, and people commenting in four of five public meetings urged the expansion of the service. The topic will be covered in the plan, Flashing said.

Healy added that the legislature will consider a bill that would allow PUDs to offer high speed internet with content. That would allow smaller utilities to provide the service without taking a financial gamble.

Brent Freeman, administrative director of the Wahkiakum School District, reported that the district is one of 20 in the region which will lose state funding because of the legislature's response to the Supreme Court's McCleary Decision, which mandates expanded funding for education.

"The McCleary decision fix has a pretty drastic affect on a school district like ours," he said. "We'll take a huge hit if they can't fix the fix.

"We're not big enough to suffer the cutbacks. Over three years, we'll lose $1 million."

The original intent of the legislature was to divert money from districts with high tax bases to districts with low tax bases, but the impact will be that Wahkiakum and many other districts will lose funding over a three-year period, Freeman said.

The legislation gave a cost of living adjustment to districts in areas with a high cost of living, such as King and Snohomish counties, but none to counties such as Wahkiakum with a lower cost of living.

"We'll have to see what happens," Freeman said.

Later, in the board of commissioners' regular meeting, Commissioners Dan Cothren and Mike Backman agreed to nominate Dr. Boone Mora, a retired public health officer living outside Skamokawa, to head Washington State University's research into elk hoof rot disease.

Cothren pointed to recent newspaper reports that the university has been unable to find a qualified scientist to direct the research. Cothren commented that Mora's research background would qualify him for the position. He and Backman--colleague Blair Brady is in Washington D.C. with the National Association of County Officials--voted to send a letter to Governor Jay Inslee with the nomination.

In a related matter, the commissioners also signed a letter to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission recommending reductions in deer and elk hunting seasons in Wahkiakum County and the neighboring region. Disease has decimated the herds, the letter said, and they need time to recover.

Especially important, Cothren said, is a halt to hunting elk cows.

Joannie Kuhlmeyer, chief civil deputy for the Wahkiakum County Sheriff's Department, reported that counties across the state are facing a shortfall in funding for emergency 911 dispatching services.

Kuhlmeyer and Sheriff Mark Howie explained that the State E911 Coordination Office (SECO) has had its reserves diverted at the state level, and then a transition project encountered unanticipated expenses, with a resulting shortfall of $4.2 million.

Officials from around the state are pressing the legislature to provide $2 million and permit use of anther $2.5 million in a reserve to cover the shortfall. Otherwise, SECO will have to select one of four plans to reduce appropriations to counties. Under the four options, Wahkiakum could lose from $10,489.99 to $326,328.62. Because of the basis the formulas use to calculate the options, large counties would have higher reductions when reductions are low for small counties, and they'd be reversed when large counties have low reductions.

"There's a lot of politics in play," Olsen commented.

In response to comments from the public, officials said they would improve methods of publicizing status of the ferry Oscar B.

Puget Island resident Sylvia Costich repeated comments she had made last week, pointing out that the county's landline message gives status effective September 29.

"Not everyone has internet access, so it has to be published," she said. Almost everyone has some kind of phone, so the status number should be maintained and updated daily, she said.

Backman and Cothren agreed that the message needs to be current so that the public can plan travel, especially in instances such as when SR 4 was closed most of the day December 30 and the ferry experienced mechanical problems which knocked it out of service.

Public Works Director Chuck Beyer said he would address the issue.

"This was a wake up call,"Cothren said. "We've got to get this right."

In related action, commissioners approved a resolution formally raising ferry rates 20 percent effective February 1. The basic fare for a car will go from $5 to $6.


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